Rebranding of Serbia through innovation

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Serbia and its talent that works on the development of innovative technologies and products is increasingly recognized in the world. Innovations and technologies are becoming our recognizable trademark in this part of Europe, while Belgrade has successfully positioned itself as a regional hub for the development of startups. According to the Startup Genome report , whose list includes around 300 ecosystems globally, Serbia with its several hundred startups is on this list and is recognized as the fastest growing ecosystem in the activation phase as well as in the accessibility of talent. 

It is a great success for the community that has been developing more actively for the last ten years, but in the future, it is necessary to accelerate the development of the ecosystem and its global connection and positioning. As the Serbian market is not large enough to sell a locally developed product, the largest number of startups is oriented towards the market of the USA, the EU and the countries of the region.

The Serbian IT sector with its companies exports services worth over 1.7 billion euros, recording an annual growth of 30%. Some would say that this is a great performance considering the circumstances and the youth of the domestic IT industry, while the room and potential for improvement is huge. 

The development and strengthening of the startup community should be set as the greatest national interest and all decisions should be made in accordance with that, which will lead to the global positioning of Serbia as a country of innovation and new technologies. 

Israel’s success story and what we can learn

The domestic development of the IT industry and its potential reminded me of the Israeli success story and the creation of modern Israel as we know it today. When the Jews arrived in the land where they live today, they had nothing, neither fertile land nor oil, but they turned those shortcomings into their mission for success. In this sense, it is ungrateful to make comparisons between Israel and Serbia, but there are lessons we can take from the Israelis who created their state from nothing.

Having nothing spurred them to create something. In the absence of natural resources, they were directed to the development and use of knowledge and creativity. The Israelis realized in time that knowledge is the most powerful tool for shaping the present and the future, so they gave knowledge much more importance than muscles. Our engineers, who left Serbia in large numbers during the nineties, achieved great careers in America and Canada thanks to their knowledge and decision to move forward, which was more a necessity than a choice. In that I see a similarity, albeit in the opposite direction, with the Jews who came to Israel and moved forward out of necessity, not out of choice. 

Our motto should be – To succeed, you don’t need to leave Serbia 

With the development of the IT industry in Serbia during the last ten years, for the first time we could hear stories of success without the need to go outside of Serbia in order to succeed. That is why today is perhaps the moment for our successful people from abroad to start developing their ideas or invest in the ideas of our people in Serbia who have a great chance to become globally recognized in the field of technology and innovation.

Resourcefulness and Serbian stubbornness are often used as an explanation for the success of our people abroad, but perhaps it is better to talk about self-confidence and courage to achieve success. We need that in Serbia as well. We have talent, but we need to work on further strengthening the entrepreneurial culture, which did not even have time to develop due to the period of socialism and its legacy. Persistence and willingness to take risks are links that need to be strengthened and people encouraged to enter into ventures that can bring a lot to both them and the community. 

Serbian IT is the healthiest product we have today, which developed primarily thanks to engineers who started working as subcontractors of large companies where good business connections were established, and then some well-known companies started opening their representative offices in Serbia so that everything this resulted in the creation of digital products in Serbia that are sold on foreign markets. Perhaps one of the key reasons for the success of domestic IT is that it had no connection with Serbia and the domestic market. 

Nevertheless, over time, the state recognized the importance of this branch of industry and became an ally of the domestic community in strengthening capacities, attracting investments and funds that would invest in domestic startups. At the beginning of the development of its tech industry, Israel recognized the main needs, which included the willingness of people (entrepreneurs) to translate their ideas into startups and take risks, then to secure financiers for the development of ideas, but also to work on attracting multinational technology companies from which would additionally acquire know-how that would contribute to the strengthening of the domestic IT scene in the future.

These are the main needs of the domestic scene in Serbia, which is still working on strengthening its capacities, increasing the number of people who are ready to engage in the construction of startups and to leave their secure jobs, and then also to receive financial support for initial work on ideas. 

America as our main partner in global positioning

In order to strengthen the startup ecosystem in Israel, venture financing firms were established whose goal was not only to finance startups but also to provide guidance on how to run a company, how to develop it and how to enter the global market with a product. In the conversation with the local community in Serbia, one of the main challenges it faces is the lack of business knowledge, so this mentoring model would contribute to the quality of startup development and the ability to move from the initial phase to the globalization phase. In Serbia, there is a huge talent with first-class engineers, but there is a lack of non-tech knowledge in tech, which could be solved through several models, and this is one of them. 

When entering the global market, it is always good to have a partner who knows that market, how the clients breathe, what the needs are and the target group of products. Given that our startups mostly enter the American market, and some of them have been sold to large American companies, while the largest number of our engineers work for American companies, it is logical that Serbia’s main partner in developing the ecosystem should be the United States of America, Israel with its eight million people today has over six thousand startups, which indicates the potential for the development of the domestic ecosystem in Serbia. Nevertheless, it is necessary to change the legislation even more in favor of the ecosystem, to strengthen capacities and knowledge, to carry out reforms in education that will strengthen the entrepreneurial culture. All of this together should contribute to increasing the number and quality of Serbian startups, and partnership with the leaders of the startup world is also necessary.

Just as Israel had a foundation for industrial research and development of the two nations, which was a joint fund between the US and Israel through which Israeli companies sought American partners to enter the American market, they also jointly invested in innovation, marketing and sales. This could be another development opportunity for strengthening the domestic IT community through the strengthening of Serbian-American relations. Today, Serbia has a great opportunity to rebrand itself and strengthen its position in the world by presenting itself as a country of innovation, Talas writes.